Through Christ's sacrifice, my sins are obliterated. Not just put in abeyance; not just tolerated - they're completely wiped out. I think of it as if nothing can stand in God's presence unless it's whiter than white, purer than pure - and so God makes us that pure. We can't avoid dirtying ourselves by sin again - although obviously we can do our best - but God has promised that he'll keep on forgiving, and that we'll be able to stand before God in the next life: washed, as our second hymn said, in Christ's blood.
I can remember very clearly one recent example of this. At a service on the Wednesday evening before Easter, I had a flash of insight. Something I'd never thought of before. Christ didn't just die for all of us. That in itself would have been wonderful enough - God in human form laying down his lives for sinners who didn't deserve anything of the sort. Christ died for each of us. If there had only been one person who would have been cleansed by Christ's death, I believe he would have laid down his life anyway. That's how much God loves us. Now, that's not my topic this morning, but the experience of that insight itself is more relevant. It just blew me away. I've rarely felt simultaneously so humbled and so loved. The feeling was incredible, and I wish I could open myself up like that more of the time. I would like to think that anyone who spoke to me that evening could tell that there was something different about me - because I certainly felt different inside.
Last Sunday morning I had the pleasure of stewarding a service in Tilehurst, led by Lucy Stacey. I don't know if you know her, but she's a dear lady who is part of the reason I became a preacher. I've only been at two of her services, but last week, just as at the other service, the light of God shone through her as if through a window. When God pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts, he doesn't give us just enough for ourselves - that's not how the Spirit works. He keeps pouring until, to steal a phrase from Psalm 23, our cup overflows. That's the impression I get from Lucy - that she has so much of God's love within her that she can't help but spread it to those she meets. That's the kind of faith I admire, and the kind of faith I commend to you this morning.
Now take it one step further: not only does Jesus want us to affect different people, but I believe he has a different nature of work for each of us to do too. There are some things I'm good at: I can sing, I can act, and I'm pretty sure God called me to preach pretty early on in my life so that after a good deal of practice I can be good at this too. There are other things I'm not so good at: I'm not a terribly good listener, unfortunately, and I'm hopelessly disorganised in general. I can't make things in the way that my wife can, or play instruments like my father and brother can. That's fine: God can use their talents in one way, and mine in a different way. The important thing is that all our talents are used for God's purposes. Our entire lives should be so steeped in God's love and marked by it that we don't have any times where we deliberately shut God out. We should strive to do everything we can in a way that reflects glory back to God, and not do actions he would be ashamed to own.
Of course, that's impossible - we're human after all. Fortunately, that's okay too - look under "Forgiveness", just a few minutes ago. While we can't be perfect, however, we shouldn't be too quick to limit ourselves. What we do for God, we do with God. When we give ourselves up to God, we can do far more than we could on our own. In our reading, Jesus gave the disciples authority to cure every disease and every sickness. That sounds strange at first, because authority is usually associated with having a right to tell people what to do. How can that work with an illness? You can't tell an illness to pull its socks up and start playing nicely, can you? You can if you're God. You can if you created the universe. When Jesus told unclean spirits to leave a person, they left. When Jesus commanded that someone should be healed, they became well. Now think again about what Jesus was doing when he gave authority to his disciples. He was giving them power, by giving them the authority to effectively speak his words to the universe and make it obey him.
Suddenly it's all quite scary. I know what my normal limitations are, and while they mean I can't necessarily do everything I want to, I know my capacity for wrecking the whole world is pretty small too. I don't know how many of you have seen the new Spider-Man film yet - I don't know if it's your cup of tea at all or not - but it contains that good old cliché: "With great power comes great responsibility." I dread to think how many films and books have had that line or variations on it. It rings true though. If God gives me authority and power, I've surely got to take the responsibility too. Gulp. I don't know whether I want that power or not any more.
Fortunately, it's quite simple. God gives us authority to do his will, because we've given ourselves up to him. God doesn't then just give us some tools and tell us to get on with it. He is with us every step of the way, guiding us. If we go off on our own path, I have no doubt that the power given to us will vanish. We don't have the power to change the world and make it work the way we want it to work. We have the power to change the world and make it work the way God wants it to work. That doesn't mean it'll be easy, of course. Paul talks about us boasting in our sufferings, and while I'm not sure I'd want to boast about it if my life became really hard, I see his point in that it's better to suffer for God's sake than to live comfortably for our own - and at least we know that God is with us through whatever life throws at us. But through whatever suffering we have to bear, if we are doing God's work as best we can, we should be confident that our work will bear the fruit God intends, just as we can be confident in our hopes of heaven.